Typically, training is part of a diversity initiative. Diversity awareness training is used to enhance employees' understanding of and sensitivity to cultural and other differences. By building awareness and understanding, training provides a foundation for behavior change.
Diversity training also provides a structured environment for discussing controversial topics like bias and discrimination. It is very important to note that diversity training will not solve all of your diversity challenges, for example, with recruiting and retention. It also will not remove organizational barriers, for example, in succession planning and promotion systems.
Diversity training also is used to improve the performance of organizations where employees from different cultural backgrounds are required to work together. By addressing cultural differences, intercultural conflict is decreased and thus, productivity is increased. Research has shown increases in innovation among heterogeneous groups, when the diversity is managed.
Diversity training focused on the US will include the difference between equal employment opportunity (EEO) requirements, affirmative action, and diversity as well as sections on sexual harassment and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Diversity skill-building training focuses on providing employees with specific behavioral tools to improve their interactions in the workplace with people who are different from them. For example, the training might focus on how to provide performance evaluation and coaching of people from different ethnic backgrounds. It also can address teambuilding and conflict resolution.
Issues to evaluate when considering training
Conduct a needs assessment: Before rushing out and signing you and your staff up for diversity training, you will want to spend some time identifying the specific issues you are trying to address or resolve. You will want to consult with your training and education and/or diversity departments for help with this process.
Determine delivery method: In order to select an appropriate delivery method, you will need to identify the role of training in your overall diversity effort. If you envision that diversity training will play a large role, then you probably will want to allocate one or two days to training delivered by internal or external trainers to small groups of employees. If, on the other hand, your diversity effort is more focused on recruitment or retention activities, then you may want to investigate shorter, and sometimes cheaper, web-based and CD-ROM options, or schedule training for a large group. In addition, training can be provided in informal settings, for example, over lunch (called Lunch-n-learns). It also can be one component of a longer, organization-wide business meeting.
Decide whether attendance at diversity training will be voluntary or mandatory: Every company, manager, and individual has an opinion on whether attendance at diversity training should be voluntary or mandatory. In order to decide, you must first evaluate your company's culture. Does your company have a tradition of mandating training on other topics, for example, on quality? Making diversity training mandatory sends the signal that you are serious about your commitment to the diversity effort within your organization. It also ensures that everyone receives training. However, employees may resent mandatory training, especially if they believe that they don't need it. On the other hand, when attendance is voluntary, it's hard to ensure that the employees who most need it will choose to come.
Research available options: There are literally hundreds of trainers providing diversity training. You should work with your corporate training and education and/or diversity department to identify appropriate vendors of diversity training. Since diversity training sometimes doesn't work well, you will want to take responsibility for selecting the diversity training material and provider. In particular, you will want to attend a training session and/or review the material prior to proceeding with training for your employees.
Note: Each company should customize this section by identifing company-approved resources with links to those resources (e.g. company universities).
Determine mix of employees for training: In larger organizations, you will need to decide whether to mix employees from different levels or different work groups in the same training session. You also need to decide whether you want to have a minimum level of visible diversity within each training group. In organizations with little visible diversity, it may require some employees to attend multiple sessions of diversity training.
Integrate diversity training into existing training: Ideally, information on your organization's commitment to diversity would be incorporated into new employee orientation and new manager training.
Consider a diversity session geared to your leadership team: Before offering or mandating diversity awareness training for your organization, it's a good idea to arrange for a separate diversity training session for your leadership team. In conjunction with an internal or external consultant, you first should research what the feelings and beliefs with respect to diversity are among your leadership team in order to design an effective learning experience.